On Mondays and Wednesdays, Shane Miller wakes up early to begin preparing for the farmers’ market in Vernon, B.C.
Miller is the owner of Syilx Sensations, a quickly growing catering company.
His specialty? Bannock, a golden fried bread popular in First Nation, Metis and Inuit (called Palauga in Inuktitut) communities all across Turtle Island.
Miller attributes his quickly growing clientele to the quality of his food.
Since the inception of Syilx Sensations, he says he’s been able to cater to a number of local businesses and conferences.
Miller says it’s his bannock that keeps people coming back.
“I let the bannock speak for itself. If you have a good product then people will come back,” he says.
Miller is currently the only Indigenous owned and operated vendor at the farmers’ market.
But how Miller got to this place is a story that carries a lot of weight he explains.
Once diagnosed with non-cancerous tumours that put him out of work, he decided it was time for a change.
“I wanted to be a carpenter…[but] I found out that trying to lift over my head among doing other things, it’s just not the same as it used to be,” he says.
“So you have to fall back on your next set of skills and that happened to be cooking for me.”
Last year at the farmers’ market Miller was selling hot items like Indian Tacos. But he’s scaled back due to COVID-19.
“This year with all the changes we just went back down to sweet and plain bannock and it’s good, it’s really good.”
“His bannock is very popular, and people are always looking for him,” says Ingrid Baron, manager at the Vernon Farmers’ Market.
At the end of last year, Miller sustained injuries from a car accident and he had to slow operations.
“He couldn’t finish out the year, but boy, people were looking for him,” Baron says.
Due to COVID-19 restriction Miller can’t sell hot food right now.
“It’s too bad right now he can’t do his Indian tacos but maybe by end of season,” Baron says.
During his interview with IndigiNews his “regulars” seek him out.
In about 20 minutes he sells several helpings of bannock. He shares stories and jokes with his regular customers.
Miller says at his food stand he gets a lot of questions about the Syilx Territory, and it opens opportunities for learning and sharing more about his culture.
“Even though we aren’t getting many tourists now I still get to promote us [Syilx culture] to the locals and educate them at the same time,” he says.
“And that’s the main goal, to provide a positive message from our people of this area. The Syilx people.”
This is a program for start-up businesses to develop entrepreneurial skills through various challenges where they are judged by members of the local business community.
Miller made it to the finals in the challenge and then decided to open his business in his home community the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB).
Miller says he has come a long way to this place where he can now share in his love for cooking.
“How I was brought up, to where I am now… growing up in foster homes, battling with addictions, starting out with a young family, quitting addictions, starting doing the right things, then getting to here,” he says.
He says Syilx Sensations is about more than just his food, he wants to “give a positive message of who we are” while also, “trying to build a foundation for the family, and that’s the most important thing to me.”
When asking if cooking has helped in his healing journey, he says “definitely.”
“The biggest thing about when you take that next step into healing is what do you do after? If you’re just going to sit there and do nothing chances are you’re going to get led astray,” he says.
“But if you focus on your goals, and you put that goal higher than you think you can achieve, then you know you always have something to work towards.”
Miller’s future plans after COVID-19 include getting a trailer so he can take his business on the road.
He hopes to expand beyond the farmers market and get back to selling all his menu items curb-side and continue to share the culture with the local community.
“I hit a little bump, but I’m back on course. I’m hoping by mid-season or end of season I’ll have my own trailer and I’ll be back up and selling Indian tacos again.”
Kelsie is reporting from the Okanagan for The Discourse as part of the Local Journalism Initiative. She’s a Sqilxw (Syilx/Indigenous) journalist and photographer who was born and raised in Inkumupulux (the head of Okanagan Lake). Her work is featured on IndigiNews.com, a new platform created by The Discourse and APTN.